Over the last few days, things have gotten worse for the country of Greece. Because of major withdrawals, limits placed by the European Central Bank, and other factors leading up to the weekend, Greece’s government instituted capital controls. This limits the amount of money that Greeks are able to withdraw from the bank and limits money going outside of Greece.
Not only that, but the banks of Greece are closed for the week, another measure to prevent a run on the banking system. Some banks have opened but only for pensioners as many of them do not have bank cards to withdraw their money. For everyone else, a limit has been placed on the amount of money that can be withdrawn per day by ATM. That limit is €60 per day.
If you are visiting Greece, how will this affect you?
Finding Money In Greece
As someone who currently lives in Greece, I am seeing all of this unravel in front of my eyes. Not only that, but I am experiencing it myself as well. With rent coming due in the coming days as well as some other cash-only payments, I have been hunting down ATMs that had cash in them.
The nearby ATMs had been out of cash Friday and Saturday, with 30% of the ATMs in Greece being out of cash at points on Saturday. Yesterday morning, I headed out early to try and hit the ATMs before many people woke up to the news of what may be coming. Instead of finding cash in ATMs, I found lines – a lot of them.
The people out in the early morning were not just out for a mere walk. Many were headed to ATMs. Of the 6 ATMs that I went to yesterday morning (and another 4 I passed), all of them were out of money and lines of people were forming to be the first in line to get money when they filled them.
Spending Is Down
Not only are people trying to get money out, but they are not spending it like normal. In passing dozens of cafes and restaurnants, what should normally have had crowds of people for Sunday business (as just about all grocery stores and retails stores are closed on Sundays), was instead empty. Bakeries that always have lines of people getting their bread for Sunday meals were instead empty as well.
We headed out this morning to get a supply of some groceries and other items that we did not want to be without (like diapers!) and already found store shelves emptied of many basic staples. Pasta, flour, breads, diapers, toilet paper, water, and other items were being carted out of the stores in great volume. Some of the employees in stores are saying they do not know when they will get some imported products again because of the capital controls restricting outside payments.
I headed out again on a search for money and went to 10 ATMs and found them empty, even though the government said they would be filled by noon. There was a crowd of us moving from ATM to ATM trying to find one that had something in it. We finally did and the line was not too bad. After waiting 25 minutes, I had my turn and was able to get the money out that I needed.
Tips For Travelers – What To Know
With tourist season here in Greece hitting its peak time, many travelers are wondering what to do with this situation now existing here. Here are some things to know and some tips to make your trip/vacation here be as easy as possible.
Withdrawal Limits Do Not Apply To Foreign Cards
While Greeks are only able to withdraw €60 each day, that limit does not exist for foreign cards. You will be able to withdraw whatever your home bank would normally allow you to withdraw.
Do Not Expect ATMs To Have Money
But, just because you can withdraw as much money as you need does not mean you should rely on that. As I have written, ATMs all over are out of money still and this may only get worse as the week goes on. If you try to withdraw a large amount out of an ATM and it does not work, try getting a smaller amount and moving on to another ATM.
Here is another thing – because foreigners can withdraw as much money as they can does not mean they necessarily should. If you are at an ATM with a long line of people, consider only taking out what you know you need for now and a little more so as not to deplete the machine too much of cash that many of the people in line may be needing for necessities. This is not necessary but would be a nice gesture as a visitor to the country.
Do Not Be An Obvious Foreigner In Line
When you are withdrawing money, try to shield your passport or other items that may indicate that you are a foreigner. This is for two reasons. The first is safety. With so many people withdrawing money, it could make for an easy place for thieves to setup and watch for unsuspecting foreigners who they know can withdraw large amounts of cash (and likely are). Though I have not seen any crimes taking place like this, it does not mean they can’t. Just be responsible like you would be in any country.
The other reason is that the people in line may assume you are going to withdraw a lot and you are instantly the least popular person in the line. Keep it a little quiet so that people who may be getting very frustrated with the current situation do not get upset with you because you may be taking a lot of money. I have already seen this happen today so just keep your English down in line. 🙂
Do Not Rely On Credit Cards
First of all, make sure at least one of the credit cards you are bringing has a chip in it. There are many systems in certain stores that will not correctly process cards without chips and you could be stuck if your only cards are non-chip cards.
Second, while the controls are not limiting the use of credit cards for foreigners, there are small shops and restaurants that are already refusing credit cards because they are afraid they will not be able to get their money. For them, the cash is much more important. You should be fine at large stores and chain stores/restaurants but do not just assume that because a place says they take credit card that they currently are taking credit cards.
Bring Some Cash
It would be very wise to bring some Euro notes with you. The last thing you want is to be stranded without any cash or need to pay a bill that can only be paid in cash and you cannot get cash. Just be aware – some US banks may require 1-2 weeks to get your Euros in so check and see what you can get on a shorter notice if you are visiting here shortly.
Another option is to bring cash to exchange in the connecting airport when you arrive in Europe. Except for a handful of flights from North America to Athens, most flights will have you connecting in another European country first. You can either withdraw Euros from ATMs in those airports or bring home currency and exchange it there. The exchange rate will not be as good as you could get in a city, but that may not be an option when you arrive in Greece.
Stay Calm And Enjoy Your Stay
If you find some of the finding of money to be frustrating, just remember that this is now a daily reality for the people here. Try to be patient and just go with the flow.
Do not waste your stay. The weather here in Greece is beautiful right now and it is a great place to visit. You will have a great time! Use the current financial conditions here to prompt you to enjoy more of the local culture as well. If you are the type of person who does not like to stray for the normal tourist areas too much, get out and explore a bit! Every day of the week, there are outdoor markets in many places around the cities. Use these markets as a great way to get incredible, fresh produce at good prices while also helping some of the people with your business.
Try out the different cafes and restaurants. There are a lot of great small places that give you the real environment and great food or drink for a very reasonable price. Yes, there are Starbucks here, but give some of the small cafes a try and enjoy a cheap frappe – you will help the owners and enjoy a taste of Greece!
Information is key – it can help you know what to prepare for and what the current conditions are. I have found the Telegraph to be a helpful source of information with a constantly updating page of information about the news involving Greece and the financial situation. Check your country’s embassy page for any recent information that you should be aware of as well.
If you have travel plans to come to Greece, don’t cancel without thinking everything through first! It is a beautiful country and great place to visit in the summer. As long as you plan ahead, you should be just fine. Not only that, but Greece is in a greater need for tourists now than before so you will be considered a necessity here at this time.